Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

You’re Grounded! Quick Reform for the Problem Dog


Dog Training You're Grounded ImageIs your dog a problem dog? Demanding, distracted, disobedient or just plain out-of-control?

Ground him!

Grounding calms, sweetens and refocuses such dogs as well as giving you a chance to regroup. It also can help shy/sensitive dogs feel more secure in the world and confident in you. Do this:

Insist on “Please”

Dogs say “please” by listening and responding. Before doing him a favor, like getting a toy or letting him outside, he should say “please” by listening and responding.  Anticipating what you want is lovely but not good enough. It is not the behavior we’re after, it’s the mental compliance.

Leave a leash on your dog so you can easily help him get it right, if he needs that support. Repeating yourself isn’t helpful to him or to you.

Show Respect

When you’re grounded, part of the program is being on your best behavior. If your dog is in your way have him move out of it.  If he resists, leave the lead on and guide him out of the way. If you’re walking out the door, don’t allow him to shove you aside. Put him on lead and teach him “Wait.”

Jumping up, nose nudging and pawing to solicit attention stops now. The problem with those behaviors is he is controlling your behavior and we want it to be you controlling his. Have him “Sit” or “Down” and then reward him – briefly – with calm attention. My Smart Puppy has many Space Games you can practice. These are fantastic ways to teach your dog to show respect.

Four on the Floor

Keep your dog on the ground and humans off the ground. This is important. Couch time and bed cuddling (if allowed) is earned. It is lost the moment behavior goes askew and is rewarded to your dog when all else is back on an even keel. Having your dog on leash will help you do this at first. Be calm, be clear, be consistent. No exceptions.

Do Chores

Doing chores is a time honored, attitude adjustment mechanism. “Chores” for your dog are obedience routines. Two five-minute sessions a day – no treats – just for your attention and praise – will go a long way to bringing your dog’s attitude around. Praise him plenty, but make sure he listens and responds to you. The formula is simple: Say it, Follow through, Smile/Praise. If you’re not sure how to follow through without treats, learn The Simple Sit and the Guided Down as taught in My Smart Puppy.

Organize His Free Time

His free time should be limited. Keep him on lead near you most of the time. Give him a toy or two but hold on to the lead. When you move, he moves. The more he literally follows you, the more he will see you as someone to follow. Use commands often, always calmly insisting that he obey. Why? Because you say so, that’s why.

Please note: We do not say “Tie the dog to you” – please don’t do that! Hold on so you can pulse, guide, help when that is needed. When your dog is calm and entertaining himself, by all means drop the lead and let him. But if he starts to get into trouble, calmly pick it back up and get him organized again.

Go To His Room

Most “problem” dogs benefit from a crating schedule. Even if you are home all the time, crate him for at least three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. This helps to establish good behavior, stop destructive cycles and teaches him to sleep when you’re out or busy.

Less Attention

Many problem dogs get too much attention. If you’re averaging more than ten minutes of attention per hour when you are home, then you need to cut back. Attention means talking to, looking at or touching. Lying at your feet or taking a walk do not count. Going over to your dog and petting him is particularly detrimental. If you want him to be enthused about being praised, make him work for it. If it is a little more rare, it will be a little more dear.

When you do give it, be warm, sincere and… brief! That is a fantastic behavior changing combo.

A Dozen Downs a Day

A dozen downs a day for a few weeks will help make “down” second nature for your dog; mentally making him more accepting and responsive. Don’t do them all in a row, ask for them when your dog least expects it. 

Hint: Pretrain the guided down so you can create a down easily from light pressure if your dog doesn’t respond.


This much change can be stressful for your dog. Plenty of exercise is required to help him through the first few weeks of this new program.

Have Fun!

Teach some silly dog tricks or a new command that amuses you. Have a good time with your dog – that is the reason you have a companion.

Changing the way your dog relates to you doesn’t mean you stop enjoying each other, it just means you enjoy each other a bit differently.

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